The Central Okanagan Board of Education will await a staff impact report from the school district superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal before deciding whether or not to implement a vaccine mandate for all school district employees.
Board chair Moyra Baxter voiced her displeasure at Wednesday’s board of education meeting that a provincial health order was not issued, essentially punting what has become a very divisive public health issue to school trustees to now grapple with.
Baxter questioned why if the provincial government deemed this issue so important to raise it at a media briefing last week, that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry did not take the next logical step of imposing a vaccine mandate on school district staff across the province as she had already done in other provincial employee sectors.
“All along we have been told to follow the mandate of the provincial health officer which we have done, and then all of a sudden they come up with this,” Baxter complained.
“This is not acceptable.”
To that end, Baxter raised a motion to send a letter to the premier, minister of education and provincial health officer stating that a vaccine mandate for school district staff come from the provincial health officer, and that the province cover any additional costs associated with enacting a vaccine mandate.
The motion drew some opposition from trustee Norah Bowman, who felt at this point, a decision had been made and the school district needed to have received Kaardal’s staff impact report.
But the resolution passed, with Bowman and trustee Wayne Broughton opposed.
Baxter said any board action on the vaccine mandate will be taken, or not, only after soliciting input from parents and school staff on the issue.
She noted school board chairs across the province will meet with ministry of education officials today (Oct. 14) in Vancouver to discuss the implications of a vaccine mandate and hear more about the provincial direction and health advice.
Baxter said the school district is well aware of both sides of the debate, illustrated by parent speakers making presentations to the board at all three school board meetings since school resumed in September on vaccine and mask wearing safety.
There was also a group of about 20 anti-vaccine protesters gathered prior to Wednesday’s board of education meeting at the entrance to the school district administration parking lot.
And another protest group led an anti-vaccine protest outside the grounds of Rutland Middle and Rutland Senior Secondary schools earlier Wednesday afternoon which led to an “interaction” between students and some of the protest group members.
Kaardal said Kelowna RCMP and a school district security guard were called to the scene to deescalate the situation, with an investigation into potential charges against some of the protesters now ongoing.
But in the midst of conflicts on this issue, Baxter said the school board is committed to looking at the ramifications of whatever decisions are made before moving ahead.
“We want to try and look at the whole picture…and any correspondence we receive will be looked at by trustees,” Baxter said.